Helen Whately refuses to rule out retaliation against EU if AstraZeneca jabs blocked

The Social Care minister was asked on two occasions whether the UK would consider plans to retaliate if vaccine doses were to be stopped from travelling to the UK. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned on Sunday AstraZeneca could face a ban on exports if delivery obligations to the European Union are not met. BBC Today programme host Mishal Husain asked Ms Whately: “She also said that she supports, in principle, the idea of an export ban if necessary. If that happens, in principle, would we retaliate?”

Ms Whately replied: “I don’t think this is a helpful line to go down. I think what is helpful is for countries to support the companies supplying and producing the vaccines to supply them and to fulfil their contracts.

“And support the efforts in the UK and elsewhere to deploy the vaccine and get the jabs into people’s arms.”

Ms Husain once again challenged the Tory minister to confirm or deny whether the UK would be willing to retaliate against the EU if vaccine stocks were to come under threat.

The BBC presenter said: “But it’s really important to understand how seriously the Government is taking this and how it plans to counter it.

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“Boris Johnson seems to be planning to have individual conversations with EU leaders about it.

“Is this something that’s regarded seriously enough for us to be willing to do something in response?”

Ms Whately said: “What we’re hearing at the moment is some speculation, conjecture and an element of rhetoric.

“What is actually important is that the EU and non-EU countries should not follow vaccine nationalism or vaccine protectionism.

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Government sources said Boris Johnson spoke to Ms von der Leyen, along with Dutch and Belgian prime ministers Mark Rutte and Alexander De Croo last week.

He may speak to other EU leaders over the coming days, the Government source added.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s commissioner Mairead McGuinness said no decisions have been made over any potential vaccine export block.

Prime Minister Johnson celebrated “a record-breaking day for the vaccine rollout” in the UK on Sunday after 844,285 jabs were given to members of the public on Saturday.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “In just one day we vaccinated the equivalent of the entire adult populations of Liverpool, Southampton and Oxford combined.”

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